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R&IEditorial Archives2005May 1 — Food

Haute ’Cue-sine
Inherently American with flavors bold and spicy, sweet and tangy, barbecue-style items heat up many a menu’s mix.

Only authentic ’cue such as smoked spareribs (above) will do at Kansas City, Mo.-based Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue’s three units. Ancho-glazed barbecue chicken (below) is grilled over an open fire at City Limits Diner.

Evoking Americana like no other cooking style, barbecue has forged a connection with consumers as deep and nuanced as the flavors it imparts. Growing beyond dedicated, chef-driven concepts such as Danny Meyer’s Blue Smoke in New York City and 4-month-old Smokejack in Alpharetta, Ga., barbecue has made inroads across menu segments, raising both the status and profile of fare that once was confined largely to roadside shacks and local joints.

“Hot young chefs come through here and turn up their noses at barbecue, but good barbecue is not easy to do. There’s a real beauty in it,” says Andy Husbands, chef-owner of three Boston restaurants including “adventurous American” concept Rouge, where standards such as North Carolina Pulled Pork and Rubbed Then Glazed Ribs are menued alongside such options as Miso-Marinated Mahi Mahi and Giant Duck Confit Quesadillas.

While Husbands and other operators adhere to the classic barbecue technique that calls for slow cooking at low temperatures over wood smoke, chefs who lack time and equipment to follow authentic ideals convey the cuisine’s essence by incorporating elements such as rubs, sauces and wood-burning grills. That’s the method of choice for David Walzog, executive chef at Michael Jordan’s The Steakhouse N.Y.C. in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal.

With Moroccan-Spiced Lamb Chops, Walzog brings North African flair, adding cinnamon, coriander and allspice to more-traditional components such as cumin, cayenne pepper and paprika. He lets the spice-rubbed chops stand for one hour before searing them on both sides to toast the spices, infusing the meat with flavor before finishing it in a 375F oven. For another summer favorite, the chef coats chicken breasts with a thin film of corn oil and then a lively mixture of coriander, cumin, fennel, Spanish paprika, garlic powder, kosher salt and black pepper before grilling them over high heat.

Such items integrate well with the “ultra-American” vibe of a steakhouse, Walzog says, noting that the concept’s Michael Jordan/North Carolina connection also allows some barbecue license. More importantly, the dishes diversify options for the transient crowd of nearly half a million potential customers who pass through the bustling train station every day.

Location, Location
Geography also makes barbecue flavors a fit at Lon’s at the Hermosa in Paradise Valley, Ariz., though for a different reason. Recently installed Executive Chef Michael Rusconi plans to fill out the menu with items “cowboys would have eaten out on the range, meats that would have been available for them to hunt,” such as pecan-grilled beef, lamb, venison and duck. Currently offered is the protein-laden Cowboy “Q” plate, the previous chef’s creation that includes mustard-crusted, double-cut lamb chop and Kobe flatiron steak, each grilled over pecan wood, plus linguica (Portuguese sausage), and barbecued pork, slow braised in house-made ancho chile-molasses barbecue sauce.

Miles away from Rusconi’s homage to the American West, authentic Carolina barbecue is in high demand at the University of North Carolina (UNC) in Chapel Hill. Ira Simon, UNC director of food and vending services for the Aramark Corp. account, keeps two smokers on hand to feed the ’cue-craving fans at campus locations.

Larger cuts such as brisket, which normally require up to 12 hours of smoking to cook through, are first parboiled or slow roasted in hot sauce and vinegar to reduce smoking time and prevent overly intense flavor.

At The Chop House, one of five dining facilities at UNC’s new Rams Head Center, Boston butt pork is marinated overnight in a mixture of hot sauce, apple-cider vinegar, crushed red pepper, salt and black pepper. The meat is then smoked, doused with sauce again and chopped to order for plating with barbecue-friendly accompaniments such as collard greens, macaroni and cheese, baked beans, cornbread and peach cobbler. Neighboring station The Carolina Diner serves the same savory pork as a classic local sandwich, piled on a kaiser roll with a dash of hot sauce and scoop of creamy coleslaw.

All-American Appeal
In traditional barbecue bastions and beyond, the growing abundance of concepts billed as upscale American provide fertile ground for a technique inherently linked to country, comfort and nostalgia.

“One of the biggest traditions America has that the rest of the world doesn’t is barbecue,” says Susan Goss, chef and co-owner of Chicago’s West Town Tavern, where a menu of contemporary American comfort food reflects esteem for all things barbecue in such offerings as lamb riblets in molasses-mustard barbecue sauce; smoked, Hawaiian-style pig and Owensboro, Ky.-style smoked lamb shoulder.

1.1 billion
Pounds of chicken, pork, beef, seafood and other proteins served in foodservice as a barbecue-cooked item or topped with barbecue sauce.
(Foodservice Research Institute)

Barbecue customs of western Kentucky, one of the few regions where lamb reigns as meat of choice, inspired Goss to create the lamb dish, a signature she begins by rubbing whole shoulders with Worcestershire sauce and a solid coating of salt, black pepper and ground allspice. In a smoker the size of an undercounter refrigerator, she smokes the meat over hickory for 12 hours at 220F. Not wanting to interrupt the smoking process by mopping, Goss chops the finished meat and reheats it for service in a sharp, pungent sauce of Worcestershire, cider vinegar, allspice and plenty of black pepper, mellowed with veal demi-glace.

David Anderson, culinary director for Wilmington, Del.-based Iron Hill Brewery, added smokers to the five-unit chain’s kitchens about a year ago. He believes authentic, smoked barbecue not only differentiates the New American menu from competitors, but it also offers a balanced culinary complement for the concept’s house-made suds.

“Our brews have enough assertiveness to stand up and match the different flavors you get out of smoking, which are pretty intense,” says Anderson, who featured smoked-chicken quesadillas and baby-back ribs on a Smokehouse Beer Dinner Menu in April and plans an All-American Barbecue beer-and-food pairing in June and July.

Anderson’s ribs are coated in a rub of salt, pepper, chili powder, thyme and oregano and smoked for about six hours over a hickory-heavy wood mix that often also includes apple or cherry wood. Root beer added to sweet, house-made sauce lends a darker, earthy flavor.

Barbecue tastes also are at home amid the “gourmet backyard cuisine” at Jasper’s in Plano, Texas, on a menu Chef-owner Kent Rathbun describes as “food we all like to eat done with the style and expertise of good chefs.

“If you present them correctly, you can put so many comfort foods into a five-star dining establishment,” says Rathbun, also known for the eclectic cuisine he creates at Abacus Restaurant in Dallas.

Jasper’s No. 1 seller is Texas Peach Barbecued Pork Loin, moistened with olive oil and clarified butter, seasoned generously with a house-made mix of kosher salt, garlic cloves and cracked black pepper, and grilled over hickory-fueled fire. A sweet reduction of fresh peaches (he uses dried in winter), Worcestershire sauce and orange juice counters the acidity of the accompanying tomato-based barbecue sauce.

... And The Living’s Easy
Seasonal American-themed menus often welcome barbecue during warm months when customers crave it most.

Applebee’s Grilled BBQ Shrimp Skewers joined five other barbecue-themed menu items during the Overland Park, Kan.-based chain’s recent BBQ Fever promotion.

Chef Johnny Vinczencz’s devotion to barbecue-inspired cookery is reflected in such offerings as ancho-cinnamon grilled pork tenderloin with sweet-potato hash.

An appetizer of sweet-and-spicy barbecue shrimp with toast points complements a lineup of authentic, smoked barbecue plates at Rouge in Boston.

Bart Hosmer, executive chef of Bradley Ogden’s Parcel 104 at the Santa Clara Marriott in Santa Clara, Calif., says the stretch from late spring to early summer is the perfect time to introduce dishes such as smoked brisket, cured in a spice rub for a day or two and smoked for six hours over hickory blended with fruit woods for sweetness. The meat is sliced and served over potato salad and corn relish, or plated as a sandwich on corn-onion rye with locally sourced, aged cheese and a side of slaw.

An enthusiastic aficionado of smoking proteins of all sorts, Hosmer experiments with various elements in dry rubs, incorporating everything from brown sugar, smoked paprika and dried mustard to Caribbean jerk-style seasonings and ras el hanout, a Moroccan spice blend featuring strong notes of allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom.

Summer also allows Executive Chef Peter Assue to offer barbecue-style specials at comfort-food spot City Limits Diner in White Plains, N.Y., and Stamford, Conn. As weather warms, pulled pork—on sandwiches, in quesadillas, even atop pizzas—joins year-round offerings of spareribs and ancho-glazed chicken. The pork spends 18 hours in a cold smoker to gain a smoky essence and then is slow cooked in sauce made from tomatoes, onions, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar and sugar.

“I could put it on the menu permanently but it won’t sell,” says Assue, who also holds an annual two-week barbecue festival each July. “The clientele dictates what I do, and they feel barbecue is not a winter dish. They relate it to warmer weather.”

Rhyme and Season
Although chefs often cite season, concept and location as grounds to bring on the barbecue, when it comes to livening menus with that tangy zip, most any excuse will do.

Customer requests spurred a decision to explore barbecue at J. Paul’s, a two-unit “American dining saloon” from Capital Restaurant Concepts in Washington, D.C. Two years ago, the Baltimore location turned to sister concept Old Glory Bar-B-Que in Georgetown, Md., for inspiration to create specials such as pulled pork with a “secret rub-a-dub-dub” spice, Savannah BBQ chicken with mustard barbecue sauce and hickory-smoked spareribs with chipotle barbecue sauce. The items were such a hit that the restaurant bought a smoker and made the dishes menu fixtures, says Executive Chef Dante Fowlkes.

For Regional Executive Chef James C. Minton II, the idea of barbecue as an ancillary business opportunity motivated him to incorporate an element of the cuisine at Eurest Dining Services, a division of Charlotte, N.C.-based Compass Group. Minton late last summer purchased a six-foot trailer that travels to corporate and private clients throughout his Midwest region, catering events with barbecue-style items such as whole roasted pigs and pulled pork.

Adding barbecue to a South Florida menu mix rich in Latin and Caribbean flavors helps Chef-owner Johnny Vinczencz create a fine-dining niche and share with guests a cooking style he loves. At Johnny V in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Vinczencz is creative in his use of the smoker. For a barbecue demi-glace, the chef combines one part barbecue sauce with two parts demi-glace, then further reduces and strains the mixture to produce a rich foil for entrées such as American Buffalo “New York” Strip and Barbecue-Spiked Filet Mignon. He also makes a compound butter with smoked, sun-dried tomatoes, barbecue spices and barbecue demi-glace.

“I really love the style all the way around,” Vinczencz says. “It’s the most natural form of cooking. It’s like comfort food to me, because that’s the way I grew up.”

  • Moroccan-Spiced Lamb Chops

BBQ on the Menus
Debate over the best combination of rubs, glazes and sauces is as permanent as barbecue’s popularity. These are among the many ways barbecue is being prepared and served.

  • Grilled Honey BBQ Shrimp Skewers; Citrus BBQ Boneless Wings, lightly breaded and tossed with citrus-chipotle barbecue sauce
    Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar, multiple locations
  • Hickory-smoked pork chop with guajillo chile and coffee-bean barbecue sauce
    Boscos Brewing Company, Memphis, Tenn.
  • Tavern BBQ Sandwich with hickory-smoked brisket, chicken or chopped pork in 30-spice barbecue sauce
    Fox & Hound Smokehouse & Tavern, multiple locations
  • Spiced lamb spare ribs, dry rubbed with cumin, paprika, salt, coarse-ground black pepper, cinnamon and cloves and lacquered with fig glaze
    Molyvos, New York City
  • Pit-smoked leg of lamb with Owensboro-style sauce
    Smokejack, Atlanta
  • Chopped brisket pita with double-smoked burnt ends and horseradish barbecue sauce The Smoked Joint: A Barbecue Experience, Philadelphia
  • Pork rib duo of Memphis-style dry rub ribs with Yucatan watermelon; bourbon-black peppercorn glazed ribs with jicama avocado salad
    Vesta Dipping Grill, Denver
  • Smoked and slowly roasted beef ribs basted in special-recipe barbecue sauce
    Wildfire, multiple locations

Word of Mouth
The impact of conveying barbecue’s full-on sensory experience with descriptors such as “bold,” “tangy,” “fiery” or “zesty” goes beyond stirring up sales. Detailed imagery on menus actually can improve customer evaluations of meals after the fact, says Brian Wansink, known for his studies of the psychology of American dining choices at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and now professor of marketing and nutritional science at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

The six-week study from University of Illinois’ Food and Brand Lab, “Descriptive Menu Labels’ Effect on Sales,” showed that not only did the 150 diners surveyed choose descriptive menu items 27% more than normally labeled menu choices, but they also exhibited more positive attitudes about the products and restaurant afterward, showing higher willingness to return and even pay more for the descriptive menu items.

“People have become more sophisticated. Barbecue is no longer just ‘here’s some ketchup-and-vinegar-based sauce.’ If people believe something is tangy or savory or sweet, or whatever sensory descriptors you might have, it will likely influence their evaluation,” Wansink says.

Besides the sensory adjectives noted above, he cites three other types of effective descriptors: locations (i.e., Kansas City or Carolina barbecue), affective labels (classic Old World pasta or ye olde potato bread) and brand names.

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